The First Apostle

Sermon for Sunday, March 31, 2013
The Day of the Resurrection
John 20:1-18
The Rev. Margot Critchfield

Introduction: This sermon is a bit different from what you might expect to encounter on Easter morning. Its structure was inspired by Yann Martel’s The Life of Pi, and my hope is that it will be engaging to our younger worshippers as well as to adults.

Writer: Just for the record, why don’t you begin by telling us your name?

Magdalene: My name is Mary—Mary Magdalene.

Writer: Okay. So, I was in a coffee house in Jerusalem one afternoon, when this old man at the next table struck up a conversation. Said his name was John.

Magdalene: Oh, that sounds like John all right…

Writer: When I told him I was a writer, he said you had a story that would make me believe that this Jesus fellow was the Christ—God’s love in human form—who “defeated death and darkness once and for all,” he said.

Magdalene: Well, John always was quite the Evangelist! As for Jesus Christ, I can only tell you my story; you’ll have to decide for yourself what you believe.

Writer: Fair enough.

Magdalene: Let’s see, where would you like me to begin?

Writer: How about after this Jesus fellow died?

Magdalene: Ok. Well, unlike the men, the other two Mary’s and I had been with Jesus till the very end.

Writer: Wait–there were three Marys?

Magdalene: Yes, Mary mother of Jesus; Mary wife of Clopas; and of course, me.

Writer: I see…(bemused)

Magdalene: May I continue?

Writer: Yes, of course…

Magdalene: After Jesus was laid in his tomb, I slept fitfully, then went through the motions of Sabbath observance as if in a trance. We all did. I hardly even remember it. I just wanted to sneak away unnoticed to be alone with my thoughts.

Writer: Let me make sure I’ve got this right. Jesus was crucified, died and buried. The Sabbath began at sundown that night, and went until the following night?

Magdalene: Yes, exactly. And that’s when I started walking. It was still quite dark when I found myself drawn irresistibly to the cave that was Jesus’ tomb. I don’t know what I expected to find there, or why I even went.

I knew he was lost to me forever behind the massive rock that enclosed his resting place. I remember thinking how foolish it was for me to be wandering around alone, but somehow I knew in my heart that I was safe–safer perhaps than I’d ever been.

Writer: You were wandering around, a woman alone, at night—and you “knew in your heart” you were safe?

Magdalene: Yes, I knew I was safe… And you might notice that apparently I was right!

Writer: Ok…

Magdalene: But what I didn’t know, and could never have predicted, was what I would find in that cold, moonless night: His tomb was wide open! The enormous stone that had sealed the cave shut now stood cast off to one side like a worthless hunk of rubbish. And out of my mind with worry I just ran as fast as I could, stumbling in the dark, to tell Peter and John.

Writer: So you get to his tomb, the stone’s somehow been rolled away, and you take off running to tell the other disciples. What were you thinking at that point?

Magdalene: I thought someone had stolen his body, and I was afraid the men wouldn’t believe me–this wild-eyed woman wrought with grief waking them from their slumber. All I could do was gasp: “They’ve taken our Lord!” And before I could even catch my breath, the two of them set off running toward Jesus’ tomb, leaving me in the dust.

Writer: The two of them?

Magdalene: Yes, Peter and John.

Writer: And they left without you. Then what?

Magdalene: By the time I caught up with them, they’d both been inside the tomb and seen for themselves: It was definitely empty; except for the linen he’d been buried in, folded in place.

Writer: Well, at least then they knew you were telling the truth.

Magdalene: Or so I thought. But you have no idea how many times Jesus had told us these things were going to happen… how often we’d heard him say he was telling us these things before they happened, so that when they did happen we’d believe. And yet we forgot. I forgot.

Writer: Under the circumstances you can hardly blame yourself…so what did Peter and John do?

Magdalene: They went home to bed! Don’t ask me to explain men…

Writer: So let me guess: you didn’t go home and go to bed?

Magdalene: No, of course not! I stayed there just staring at the tomb where my Savior had lain. I wanted to go inside, just to be someplace he had been– and yes, even to touch the very cloth that had covered his body.

Writer: And did you?

Magdalene: Not exactly…the sun was rising behind me when I finally dared to peek inside. And what I saw there, I swear I saw it as clearly as I see you right now…

Writer: Go on…

Magdalene: There were two magnificent angels dressed entirely in white, glowing, radiant with light, and their faces shone with the most amazing love! One of them asked me why I was crying. And I just blurted out, “They’ve taken my Lord and I don’t know where they’ve put him!”

Writer: These angels, were they there when Peter went into the tomb, or when John did?

Magdalene: Well, neither of them mentioned seeing the angels, but you know as well as I do that doesn’t mean the angels weren’t there…

Writer: (incredulously) Are you saying these dazzlingly brilliant, radiant angels could’ve been in the tomb, and Peter and John just missed seeing them?

Magdalene: Are you really so surprised? Surely as a writer you know perfectly well that people not only believe what they see– sometimes they can only see what they believe!

Writer: (a bit humbled) Ah yes, of course!

Magdalene: Just then I felt a presence behind me. It was unmistakable, that feeling when you know someone is there. So I turned around, and where just moments ago there was no one, there stood a man I assumed was the gardener.

But with the sun right behind him I could hardly make out his face, so I cupped my hands over my eyes, and just as I did he began to speak. All I remembering hearing was his voice saying “Mary!” — and as I heard my name, felt my name, breathed in my name, I knew without a doubt this was my teacher, my Lord, my dear friend Jesus!

Writer: Let me get this straight. You’re looking at the angels, you feel someone behind you, and when you turn around you see Jesus’ ghost dressed like a gardener…

Magdalene: This was no ghost, young man! This was our Lord Jesus, completely transformed and yet entirely himself. Crucified, died and risen to new life!

You have no idea how my heart leapt within me! Such joy I have never known!

Writer: Wait, you’re saying he was alive — really alive, as in: not dead anymore?

Magdalene: As alive as you or me–only more so!

Writer: More so?!?!? …Okay… so what happened next??

Magdalene: I ran to embrace him, and we practically fell over — hugging and laughing with delight like dizzy children. But then he explained that I mustn’t hold on to him, because he had not yet gone to the Father. “Go tell the others,” he instructed me, “that I’m going to my father and your father, to my God and your God.'”

Writer: He said that? He said he was going to God?

Magdalene: Yes — and you see then I remembered. I remembered he’d told us dozens of times that all of this was going to happen!

And he knew I remembered. We looked at each other for a moment—a moment that will last an eternity for me–a moment so full of divine love I couldn’t even begin to describe it. I only knew I had to share it. Share it generously and extravagantly, like he did.

So you see, that’s how I became the first of the apostles—the first to tell the others in no uncertain terms, “I have seen the Lord!!! He is risen!!!”

Writer: And they believed you?

Magdalene: Are you kidding? That bunch? Not at first, of course not!

Writer: Why not?

Magdalene: For the same reason so many still don’t believe: They wanted to hear something “more realistic” — a story that would confirm what they already knew… that wouldn’t make them see higher or further or differently. A flat story they could control and understand.

Writer:  So what did you do?

Magdalene: I told them another story: I told them they were probably right. After all, I hadn’t slept all night, had barely eaten, and was out of my mind with grief. Peter and John said I was hysterical when I got to them, and after they saw for themselves that the body had been stolen, I must’ve fallen asleep. It certainly was a most astonishing dream! Then when I awoke with the gardener standing over me saying my name-–with the sun bursting behind him such that I could hardly see his face, I obviously mistook him for Jesus!

Writer: And did Peter and John believe your second story, the more realistic one?

Magdalene: Oh yes! And they had a good laugh about it too— at my expense, of course! Silly woman–imagine mistaking the gardener for the messiah, ridiculous!

Writer: Indeed.

Magdalene: But now may I ask you something?

I’ve told you two stories about what happened that first day of the week after Jesus’ crucifixion. No one can prove which story is true, and which is not. In both stories, Jesus is killed, his tomb is found empty, and only his burial clothes are left behind.

Writer: True.

Magdalene: So which story do you prefer?

Writer: The first one is the better story, of course.

But now wait a minute…I think you said they didn’t believe you at first…what did you mean at first?

Magdalene: Well, would it surprise you if I told you I had a very good laugh myself later that night? You see, Jesus appeared to all of us– completely out of nowhere, while we were behind locked doors in the upper room!!

Writer: He what?!?

Magdalene: Uh-huh. The disciples all saw him, too! And you should’ve seen their faces when they did! So ever since then, with hearts on fire with love, they’ve been teaching the whole world that: Alleluia! Christ is risen!

Congregation: The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

The End (or, The New Beginning….)

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